City officials in the southeastern Missouri city of Piedmont have apologized to a woman who faced retaliation after repeatedly flipping off the mayor — saying they'll try to do a better job of protecting residents' First Amendment rights.
The apology and other concessions end eight months of litigation between Piedmont and a woman named Tina Warren, who received legal help from the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri.
In April 2014, Warren found herself feuding with Piedmont Mayor William “Bill” Kirkpatrick. The conflict started out innocuously, with Warren approaching Kirkpatrick in public to ask him when city workers would get around to restoring water service to her home.
But instead of replying civilly, Warren claims Kirkpatrick told her to get back in her car and “go down the fucking road." From that day on, Warren decided that she would deploy her middle finger as a protest banner. She made it a point to flip off the mayor any time she encountered him.
That's when the alleged retaliation began.
According to a federal complaint filed by the ACLU of Missouri in September 2015, Piedmont police pulled Warren over after she flipped the bird at Kirkpatrick; in another instance, she was cited for blocking a sidewalk while collecting signatures in support of a city audit. Police also initiated a drug search on her home, finding nothing. At one point, city workers even removed Warren's water meter. When confronted, they told her it was because “you flipped us off."
In a prepared statement announcing the settlement, Warren said the city's laws had brought this trouble on itself.
"Let this be a warning to all these small towns and cities out there that one 'Bad Apple' can cost a city a lot of money and could wrap your city up in court, if you have laws that are unconstitutional," she said.
According to court records, the lawsuit was dismissed last week after the two parties reached the agreement. The particulars of the settlement were posted yesterday on CopBlock.org
by Warren's son, Bryan Jeffers, who was also listed as a plaintiff in the suit. (Messages left with Kirkpatrick's lawyer and the ACLU of Missouri were not immediately returned.)
Update, June 22:
Keith Henson, the attorney representing the City of Piedmont and Kirkpatrick in the lawsuit, confirmed to RFT
this morning they'd reached a settlement with Warren and Jeffers. Henson expects the settlement terms to be signed and finalized within two weeks. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Warren and Jeffers agreed to drop all the individual defendants in the suit, leaving only the City of Piedmont as party to the settlement. End of update, our original story continues below.
According to Jeffers' post, the conditions of the settlement
include a payment of $9,500 to Warren, Jeffers and their attorneys. The City of Piedmont also agreed to issue the following apology: “The administration of the City of Piedmont regrets their response to Tina Warren’s expressive activities. The city recognizes that residents have the first amendment rights and can not be subject to retaliation for exercising those rights. The city also acknowledges a citizen’s right to criticize public officials, even when some may find it offensive.”
Piedmont will also "revisit and evaluate laws that outlaw cursing" and offensive gestures, which includes removing any signs citing or relating to “no cursing.”
Even with the lawsuit settled, the strife between Warren, Jeffers and Kirkpatrick doesn't appear to be finished.
"Standing up for your rights and seeing it to the end is something we like seeing," Jeffers wrote on CopBlock, where he touted the settlement as vindication for his mother's profane protest. "We believe that if enough people call the council members they will go ahead and impeach the 1st Amendment hating mayor."
See also: Woman Who Flipped Off Mayor Targeted in Drug Raid, ACLU Alleges
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_ Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com